This article was originally posted on the RFPA blog and was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.
A Review of the Differences
In our study of Islam, we have noticed that the two religions are diametrically opposed to one another.
First, Islam arose after Christianity—Mohammed was born in 570 AD, centuries after the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early church (c. 325-451 AD). In a certain sense, Islam can be called a truly anti-Christian religion, in that it developed in opposition to Christianity (although, as we have noted, Mohammed in his Qur’an was really attacking a caricature of Christianity).
Second, Islam’s Theology, or doctrine of God, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—the Islamic god Allah is a Unitarian deity, transcendent above the creation, and lacking the eternal fellowship of life and love of the triune God of sacred scripture. The cardinal doctrine of Islam is tawhid or the absolute, indivisible oneness of Allah, and the cardinal, unforgivable sin of Islam is shirk, the sin of joining or associating others with Allah. Christianity teaches God’s oneness (there is one God or one divine being or essence) and God’s eternal threeness (for He exists or subsists in three, distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Those three persons are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-essential or consubstantial).
Third, Islam’s Anthropology, or doctrine of man, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as essentially good, albeit prone to evil, and rejects the doctrine of original sin or inherent depravity, whereas Reformed, biblical Christianity views man as totally depraved, needing divine grace to deliver him from sin and death. In many ways, therefore, Islam is close to Pelagianism, which also teaches the inherent goodness of mankind without the need of divine grace, a heresy rejected by the church roughly a century before Mohammed’s birth.
Fourth, Islam’s Christology, or doctrine of Christ, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views Jesus Christ as one of Allah’s greatest prophets, second only to Mohammed. The Islamic Jesus (called Isa in the Qur’an) is virgin born and he performed miracles (even as a child). The Islamic Jesus is in no sense divine, but is a creature subject to the lordship of Allah. Therefore, Islam has no concept of the Incarnation or of the two natures (human and divine) of Jesus Christ. Moreover, Islam repudiates any notion that Jesus is the Son of God, for Allah cannot have a son according to Islam’s understanding of God. Since Islam rejects a divine, incarnate Savior, Islam also rejects the atonement of Christ (both the need for it and the possibility of it), and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Most Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified, but a switch occurred at the last moment to spare Jesus the indignity of the cross. Christianity teaches that Jesus willingly suffered for the sins of his people in order to deliver them from sin and death, which sufferings are efficacious for the salvation of God’s church.
Fifth, Islam’s Soteriology, or doctrine of salvation, is diametrically opposed to Christianity—Islam views man as imperfect, but savable. Salvation in Islam is by the performance of good deeds, whether almsgiving, prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage. In Islam, salvation depends on the outcome of the “scales” on the great Day of Judgment: “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23:102-103). Christianity teaches that man is lost and undone, and that Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost. Therefore, salvation is by grace alone, a concept altogether foreign to Islam. In Christianity, salvation from the beginning (regeneration) to the end (glorification) is entirely the work of God. The Christian does not trust in good works, because his best works are imperfect. Instead, he trusts in the works of Jesus (his obedience, suffering, and death on his behalf), and he performs good works out of a thankful heart, which has been renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Muslim’s Soteriology drives him to seek to accrue sufficient good works for the Day of Judgment. Nevertheless, the Muslim can never have assurance of the favor of Allah, for who can know whether his “scales” will balance on the Last Day? The Christian’s Soteriology causes him to enjoy peace with God because he knows that all of his sins have been forgiven through the shedding of Christ’s blood.
Given the stark differences between the two religions on the most basic and fundamental issues of truth (Who is God? Who is man? Who is Christ? What is salvation?), it is astounding that many teach today that Islam and Christianity are basically the same. They are not, and we do our Muslim neighbor no favors by pretending that they are. However, we also do not vilify or demonize our Muslim neighbor—he is as lost in his sin as our unbelieving atheist, Jewish, or even nominally Christian neighbor. Instead, in love, we seek gently and patiently to explain to him the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Jesus: The Only Substitute
In our last blog post on Islam (November 28, 2016), we ended with the following “dilemma” (a dilemma for us, not a dilemma for God. God does not experience dilemmas):
Is there, then, anyone who can pay the penalty of sin for the sinner?
The answer, we said, was that God provides a substitute, his own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
A substitute is one who stands in the place of another and does for another what he cannot do for himself. A biblical term similar to substitute is the idea of “surety.” A surety is one who assumes the responsibilities and duties of another. If the other person fails in his obligations, the surety fulfills the obligations for him. Jesus is called the surety in Hebrews 7:22: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament.”
The obligation that comes to every human being is to love God with the whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love the neighbor as oneself. That is a summary of the whole law of God. Or, to express it differently, the obligation that comes to us as creatures is perfect, lifelong obedience. The law of God says to us, “Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). Elsewhere, James writes, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Therefore, our “best efforts” (whatever they are) are not good enough.
As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of perfect obedience upon myself. Where you have not obeyed God, I have obeyed God for you. Where you have not loved God with a perfect heart, I have loved Him on your behalf.” Paul explains it this way, “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5).
What a wonder—the Son of God, the Lawgiver, becomes subject to the law of God (“under the law”), and willingly, and perfectly, obeys it for miserable, sinful, rebellious lawbreakers!
Since mankind has not kept the first obligation, he becomes subject to a second obligation, which is punishment. As sinners, we are liable to the wrath and curse of an offended, holy God, a God who will by no means clear the guilty. God’s wrath is perfectly just and holy, and that wrath issues in the sinner’s death. Unless God is propitiated with respect to man’s sin, the sinner’s end is eternal punishment in hell.
As the substitute or surety, Christ says to his people, whom he came to save, “I have taken the obligation of punishment upon myself. Where you deserve in God’s just judgment to be punished for your sins, I have been punished in your place. I have taken upon myself the wrath and curse of my Father, so that you are received into my Father’s favor as his beloved sons and daughters.” Peter writes, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18). Paul writes, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
What a wonder—the Son of God, who is perfectly righteous, holy, and without sin, is punished for the sins of his people, so that his people, who deserve to perish, are saved!
In order to qualify as the substitute or surety, Jesus must fulfill three requirements.
First, he must be a true man. Since human beings have sinned against God, a human being must fulfill the obligations of lifelong obedience and atoning sufferings and death. Therefore, an angel was not qualified to be the substitute or surety of God’s people. God did not send the angel Gabriel to perform the work of salvation. And we have seen, in considerable detail, that the Son of God, in the incarnation, took to Himself a real human nature, consisting of body and soul.
Second, he must be a righteous man. Any would-be substitute cannot himself be guilty of sin. Otherwise, he would be obligated to satisfy for his own sins, which he could not do. There are no specimens of humanity who are perfectly righteous and sinless—even the greatest of men, whether prophets, religious leaders, scientists, philosophers, kings, or artists, are sinners, and, therefore, guilty before God. None of them is qualified to be the Savior.
Third, he must be God. Consider the work that the Savior must perform, and you will understand that only divine omnipotence and perfect wisdom could accomplish it. The Savior must bear in his own body the sins of all his people, which is a burden that would crush a mere man. The Savior must suffer the terrible weight of the wrath and curse of God, which would destroy a mere man. And the Savior must be personally God so that his obedience, sufferings, and death have infinite value in the sight of God. None of the sufferings of men and angels can be compared with the sufferings of the Son of God in our flesh.
That is why Jesus Christ is the only Savior—he is the only one qualified to be the Savior. Others can teach us about salvation, as God’s true prophets and apostles have done. But only the Son of God, who is eternally and unchangeably God, and who, in the incarnation, became truly and completely man, and who is perfectly righteous and holy, can be the Savior.
And God, knowing our need for such a Savior, in great love for his people sent exactly that Savior whom we need. Our calling is to believe in that Savior, to trust in Him alone, and to love and to serve Him forever out of gratitude for his salvation. Listen to the good news proclaimed by the angels: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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